Monday, February 18, 2013

Lessons From the Kitchen, Part 2

Lately I've been conscious of not wanting to waste food. I've been playing games in the kitchen to find creative ways to use leftovers or incorporate those tiny bits of ingredients into other recipes rather than throw them out. I didn't stop there, however. I've been researching about the parts of food we DO throw away, such as peels, rinds and seeds.

When most people eat oranges, they eat the flesh and throw away the seeds and skin. This is due to the obvious fact that orange peel is bitter, especially the white part, and too many of us had parents who told us that if we ate the seeds, an orange tree would begin to grow in our stomach! The fun part of being a mad scientist in the kitchen, however, lies in dispelling myths, experimenting, and creating huge messes! As it turns out, if you caramelise or grill the oranges until the peel becomes soft, it loses its bitterness. If you then finely chop the orange (including the peel) and add it to whatever dish you're preparing, you will have the most delightfully, refreshing orange flavour ever!

If an orange can become even sweeter after its "trial by fire", why can't we? I know of a few people who have gone through some tremendous challenges which have softened them and developed a rare gentleness and compassion. Others come through difficulties quite hard and embittered. I do not wish to make light of the suffering and grief through which some people must journey, but this orange has me thinking...

The people who seem to come through their fiery trials sweeter are the people who seem to surrender to the presence of those trials. Like them? No! Try to change them? Sure. But in the meantime, they seem to acknowledge that the trial is there, and then choose to work with the trial rather than fight against it (have you ever seen an orange jump off of the grill?). These people, like the orange peel, are filled with double the life-giving nutrients.

There are a several things in my life I'd like to discard because they are "bitter" or sour, or because I've held on to silly myths and judgements of my childhood. Maybe it's time to take those things and grill them instead, embrace the fiery heat, and hope for a softness and sweetness to emerge.


Monday, February 11, 2013

Lessons From the Kitchen, Part 1

Food is never just food. It is flavour, texture, soil composition, nutrients, germination, pollination and a community of ingredients working together to bring out the best in each other. Today, for instance, I made small tarts with leek, sweet pepper and blue cheese. That is only the end of the story, however. There is a whole history to each ingredient, and I must respect this and work with the food to create something tasty. It is not my talent which produces something edible; it is joining in a great work that has already begun, adding my hands and a bit of love to create a new dish.

Leeks. Leeks are one of my favourite vegetables - an under-appreciated, rarely-used, milder version of an onion with a hint of garlic. What I love about them is that they grow where other vegetables can't: in sand. Sand is not good soil for food; it lacks nutrients, it is too loose, and plants cannot take firm root in such conditions... except for leeks. Leeks somehow manage to not only survive in sandy soil; they thrive.

Blue cheese. I would like to know who discovered that mould on cheese is a good thing! Somewhere, somehow, someone took a risk and came to the delightful discovery that what was destined to be thrown out because it was no longer good was actually a culinary delicacy. These days, one pays a high price for such mould!

Sweet Peppers. Each sweet pepper would not exist if a bee had not come along and pollinated a tiny white flower. Each one would not exist if a seed had not spent many days - unseen and unknown - in the depths of the ground. Each one is, in its own right, a small miracle.

Tart Crust. Such a seemingly insignificant part - the crust - yet one must add just enough water to allow the dough to hold together without activating the yeast prematurely. It is a careful dance of chemistry and one must know the molecular properties of each ingredient and how they work together.

There is also the oven, of course, in which the food must be put and subjected to high temperatures to bring about the property changes of each ingredient: dough rises and becomes flaky and crisp, sweet peppers release their sugar, leeks become soft and aromatic, and blue cheese melts and holds it all together.

My kitchen creations are filled with lessons and symbolism which challenge and teach me on difficult days. Am I willing to work behind the scenes - unknown and unseen - in order to produce something beautiful and nourishing? If the soil of my life is less-than-ideal, will I not merely survive, but choose to thrive? Can I handle a little bit of "mould" and turn it into a sought-after delicacy? Am I grateful for the community in which I am a part, that holds me together and brings out my best flavours? Will I embrace the fiery trials and let them transform me into a fragrant offering to the world? I hope so! I would much rather let the obstacles and difficulties of life become catalysts which yield beauty, hope and child-like wonder at the small miracles of life, than become a burnt and bitter offering that complains about the unexpected and often-painful challenges that present themselves.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sunday Poem

You can fertilise me, Life,
With obstacles and unpleasantries.
The excrement
I once protested
I now reclaim as a
Cultivator of beauty, lushness,
Turning this mud puddle into
A spa treatment to
Revel in the magic of
Dust, water, air.
With every holy breath
I choose to transcend,
Celebrate grace,
With musty earth
Between my toes.


Monday, February 4, 2013

Questioning My Intentions

I've been doing much better in regards to not complaining about my morning commute. I have been trying to see it as a precious gift of time in which to listen to God, be in His presence, and just enjoy the quiet rather than listen to music. I have been practising contemplative prayer, slow breathing, and have arrived at work much more relaxed!

This morning, however, a taxi driver ran me off the road in an act of utter rudeness. Before I could catch my breath, two more taxis zoomed past and cut me off. I was angry at the injustice of it and the lack of manners or thought to others' safety. I wanted to shout at them and give them a piece of my mind... and then I stopped myself.

"What are your intentions?" I asked myself. "Well, duh! To let them know that I saw what they did and it wasn't right!"... And then what? Arrive at work all wound up and grumpy about something you have no control over and cannot change? Umm... well, no...

I continued asking myself questions. "How do you want to begin your morning? In what mood do you want to arrive at work?" Rested, peaceful, ready for the busy morning, creating a warm environment filled with hospitality and good smells coming from the oven.

"Okay, then. Can you think of a better choice?" Sigh... Let it go. Refocus on listening, breathing, being. Enjoy the sunrise, be thankful for the gift of another day, and foster a sense of gratitude and contentment.

I have to confess, this was easier said than done, but I found that in questioning my intentions, I could define what was truly important and reset my course. It made a huge difference.


Sunday, February 3, 2013

Choosing to Find Beauty...

"Maybe redemption has a story to tell..."